In Impromptus today, I start what will be a weeklong series, “SDI at 30.” This expands (greatly) on a piece I have in the current issue. Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s historic speech announcing our missile-defense project. What have we done with these three decades? (Not enough.)
The thing about the SDI speech — it didn’t address the new project until the final paragraphs. Most of the speech is about near-term matters, and the defense budget. And it is a superb speech, worth reading in full. Let me quote a bit:
. . . first, let me say what the defense debate is not about. It is not about spending arithmetic. . . .
What seems to have been lost in all this debate is the simple truth of how a defense budget is arrived at. It isn’t done by deciding to spend a certain number of dollars. . . . We start by considering what must be done to maintain peace and review all the possible threats against our security. Then a strategy for strengthening peace and defending against those threats must be agreed upon. . . . The cost of achieving these ends is totaled up, and the result is the budget for national defense.
There is no logical way that you can say, Let’s spend X billion dollars less. You can only say, Which part of our defense measures do we believe we can do without and still have security against all contingencies? Anyone in the Congress who advocates a percentage or a specific dollar cut in defense spending should be made to say what part of our defenses he would eliminate, and he should be candid enough to acknowledge that his cuts mean cutting our commitments to allies or inviting greater risk or both.
This is basically the theme of a piece I wrote for a January issue of NR, “Defense Is Different.” I learned to think this way, I’m sure, from Reagan, Caspar Weinberger, and the rest of those “Reaganauts” (to use Dick Allen’s coinage). They caught me when I was in high school and college. The entire weight of my education was on the other side. But I went with Reagan et al. — because they made sense to me.
Anyway . . .